Editor’s note: For Pierre’s look back at his year as Neuro Community Editor and an announcement of the open position, scroll down.
On Tuesday afternoon (5:15-6:25 pm, Hall B1), the Presidential Special Lecture will be given by May-Britt Moser, who received last year’s Nobel Prize in physiology for her exceptional work on the brain’s very own GPS.
As we said at the time, May-Britt and Edvard Moser’s major contribution to our understanding of how the brain builds a representation of its spatial environment stems from their discovery of a specific category of neurons in the medial entorhinal cortex of rats, cells whose activity waxes and wanes as the animal explores its environment. Contrary to the place cells observed in the hippocampus three decades earlier by John O’Keefe, which activated only when the animal was in a specific location (O’Keefe was also awarded a share of the 2014 Nobel Prize), the cells described by the Mosers appeared to parcellate the environment into a hexagonal grid, hence their nickname: grid cells.
A celebration of systems neuroscience
There are two major reasons why I’m excited about Moser’s talk. First, that her work was awarded the Nobel Prize speaks to the recognition of systems neuroscience generally, and more specifically the investigation of neuronal operations in the ecologically valid context of an intact, behaving animal (rather than studying neurons in cell cultures, say, or brain slices), as a major contribution to modern science. In that sense, I feel that the lecture will represent a celebration of the achievements of systems neuroscience so far.
Second, the science! I’m sure that many of us first learned about place cells (and perhaps even grid cells) during our Neuroscience 101 courses. That some neurons are capable of representing concepts such as spatial location has always fascinated me. I’m hoping to learn during the lecture how grid cells extract information from (I presume) sensory and motor cortices to build their hexagonal tiling, and how they interact with place cells and another type of neurons that encode the direction that the animal is facing. To me, the neuronal apparatus for spatial navigation represents one of the areas in neuroscience where we’re making truly significant progress toward fully understanding the physiological underpinnings of “higher-order” or cognitive abilities.
Looking back upon a year as PLOS Neuro editor
This October and #SfN15 will also mark the end of my position as a co-editor for the PLOS Neuroscience Community. PLOS Neuro was the first of the PLOS Communities to be created, back in the summer of 2014. Our first year has been a fantastic one overall, with several of our best posts attracting thousands of readers. For me, it was also an opportunity to read the literature and especially interact with scientists in a different fashion: the interviews are consistently the most enjoyable posts to me (just this week, we hosted Micah Allen’s great interview of Olaf Sporns; for something slightly different, read Luc Arnal’s interview about his research on screams). Guest posts from neuroscientists at various stages in their career, from grad students to principal investigators, enriched our perspective on the field. PLOS Neuro also kept busy on Twitter, where we attracted several thousands of followers, and on reddit, where we contributed to the weekly PLOS Ask Me Anything series. Of course, the highlight of the neuroscientific year comes every autumn with the SfN’s annual meeting. Last year, we put together a team of about 30 researchers who did a truly remarkable job blogging and tweeting about the meeting. This year, we’re doing it again, and we will feature our volunteers’ posts directly here on the PLOS Neuro blog, as well as on Twitter where we invite you to follow our curated list for up-to-the-minute coverage.
We are looking for an editor for the PLOS Neuroscience Community! If you’re interested in sharing exciting neuroscience research with your peers, engaging with the community on social media, and broadening your own neuroscientific horizons, come and talk to us at the PLOS booth (#115)! I (@pierre_vanmedge) will be at the booth on Sunday afternoon, and Emilie Reas (@etreas), who has also been editor of PLOS Neuro from the beginning and is staying on board as editor, will be available on Monday afternoon. If you can’t make it to Chicago this year, feel free to reach out to us by e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or on Twitter (@PLOSNeuro).